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Virtual Handyman

When there's somethin strange in IT's neighbourhood, who they gonna call? The Turnaround CIO, of course

When IT is broken, turnaround artists are the "hostbusters" that strap on their proton packs and charge in to rescue the situation. Most have deep experience in IT, broad knowledge of business realities and a strategic technology vision, ideally positioning them to turn around a troubled and chaotic environment. Often they are brought in to a company in quest of a competitive edge and new markets, wanting to fix serious technology problems or having an urgent need to make IT more responsive to the business, but they also may have to salvage a company that has been blindsided by new technologies or overwhelmed by mergers and acquisitions

For instance AGL CIO Cesare Tizi works for a company that has been around for a very long time, with an IT shop that has really been very much the same for almost 20 years.

"We're really trying to change the culture of the organization in an environment that is quite changing itself — as an organization AGL is going through a lot of M&A activity, so we're trying to turn IT around," Tizi says. "It hasn't been in the past, I must say, very successful in delivering what the business wants. So now we're trying to reshape the IT to match the business changes that have occurred, but also the new dynamics of the company from the point of view of the constant merger and acquisition that is happening."

Almost half of Turnaround CIOs said that an understanding of business processes and operations was one of their top three personal skills for success in the role

Turmoil is just as present at South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service (SESIAHS). CIO Jean Evans says health IT is going through enormous change, partly as a result of shared services initiatives, but also because of the need to empower patients and provide them with more information while simultaneously integrating information across both public and private health organizations and also across state and Commonwealth. Significant initiatives include the build-up of a centralized health technology group and introduction of a state-wide electronic medical record project, intended to benefit anybody who needs to use the health system. IT is the catalyst.

"The business transformation is not just implementing the system, it's looking at how we standardize across all Area Health Services, across operating theatre areas, through emergency departments, through scheduling of patients, through different groups," Evans says. "The business change is enormous because it's not just that integration across different departments, it's actually standardizing so that all hospitals, in effect, will be functioning in much the same way, and IT is almost forcing that change in business processes."

Since the impact will hit the smallest hospital and the largest, and involve all functions, health IT initiatives around Australia have set up a range of functional groups, manned by the most vocal and the most functionally capable, to assess and manage the change.

And that's where the Turnaround Artist excels: they know how to quickly get a handle on business needs, restore the optimism of a dispirited team and get early wins under the belt in the name of restored business confidence. "Hired guns and risk takers" is how US CIO magazine described them recently, and for many, accepting a relatively high level of risk is considered par for the course.

"I am at a stage in my life where probably I can take risks more comfortably, because I'm not looking for my next role," Evans says. "I'm on a three-year contract here, so I'm willing to take the risks, but only in the interest of the organization."

The typical Turnaround CIO comes armed not only with a potent strategic technology vision but also a deep understanding of the various businesses within the business and the competitive landscape it labours in.

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